NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - If it is true that art is intended to provoke, graffiti got it right from the very start. On New York City streets and subways, it was considered by many to be a sign of urban blight if not an outright criminal activity.
But something happened along the way. A generation of street artists grew up and entered the real world.
"Yesterday's graffiti artists became today's fashion designer," said David 'Chino' Villorente, co-curator of the Beyond the Streets exhibit, which has opened its doors in a majestic space in North Williamsburg where it will remain through August.
Beyond the Streets features the work of over 100 street artists Including that of Madsaki whose eyes as a 6-year-old immigrant just landing in NYC were riveted by the paint-covered subway cars zipping along the expressway.
"I didn't know what that was but it just looked cool," the artist told Fox 5. "That gave me the strongest impression."
Madsaki devoted his life to the art form, a decision whose acceptance from his parents took longer than society to see graffiti as art.
"They literally just told me [a few days ago] 'I'm proud of you,'" he said with laughter and a wide smile. "Finally, after 45 years!"
Others like Rosie Perez, also from this Williamsburg neighborhood, were on hand admiring the work her husband, graffiti writer Eric Haze.
"If you were in New York at the time, it either disturbed you greatly or fascinated you," Perez said. "Not everything that makes you feel uncomfortable is bad."
While many street artists began with writing their name, others advanced onto more complex messages they describe as a form of communication. Graffiti drawn on a subway car meant it would be seen across the city, in other boroughs where others would react and message back in the form of graffiti. It was the social media of the time.
"You could sit on a platform and see who was friends with who and who didn't get along. And who was painting this weekend because it was a fresh train painting pulling into the station on Monday," Villorente said. "So there was a real conversation going on."
And so is the slow evolution of one man's vandalism becoming society's contemporary art.